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The Comedy Plot, Toolbox Edition (part three)

Banes at 12:00AM, May 25, 2017

“I wouldn't give this guy's problems to a monkey on a rock!”
-David Letterman

Part One:

Part Two:

The Story so far…

Who is the Hero
What Does the Hero Want?
The Door Opens
The Hero Takes Control ….and now…

A Monkey Wrench is Thrown
Things Fall Apart

Okay, we have our Hero. Our Hero wants something on an outer level, and has an inner want (or need) as well. An opportunity or change happens, drawing the Hero into a new set of circumstances and giving them a chance to achieve that outer want. The Hero jumps all over it, achieving progress toward that want. Things are apparently going along alright!

Enter the Monkey Wrench

“Of all the gin-joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”

This is where a new wrinkle enters the picture, presenting the Hero with the chance to fulfill their inner NEED.

In an episodic comedy, this is very often the Act Break. The Hero sees that things are not working out as planned…cut to commercial!

The Monkey Wrench in the usual comedy story is when the Hero falls in LOVE. Romantic love, familial love, whatever. It could be the love for a pet, or for some kind of cause, even.

Vorhaus connects this part to the idea of LOYALTY. The Hero is loyal to themselves and their (outer) goal. The monkey wrench displaces that loyalty to someone or something else: The object of the Hero's love.

We see Hero's in countless comedy movies hit this “love” complication: From Austin Powers to those Wedding Crashers to Aubrey Plaza in “Safety Not Guaranteed” to…well, many many MANY many others. Pick any comedy movie - there's a STRONG chance you'll see this moment.

And this newfound loyalty/love causes problems. It gets in the way of achieving the outer goal. The Hero can't have both the outer and inner goals. The cad can't keep on…cadding AND have this amazing new woman's love.

Enjoying the magic powers in a magic-power comedy is at odds with having a future with the Hero's object of love.

The Nutty Professor can't reveal his double identity to the girl he's fallen for.
That 40 year old virgin has a similar problem when he falls for Katherine Keener.
John Cleese can't defend his client and maintain his life and also have Jamie Lee Curtis (Wanda, in that Fish movie).

It's a damn monkey wrench!

“the center cannot hold”

If “The Hero Takes Control” section is a series of positive scenes, this is the opposite. Things…well, they fall apart for the Hero.

The series of deceptions they've constructed falls apart.

Michael Keaton's job and family life both disintegrate thanks to all those Michael Keaton clones.

The 40 year old virgin's relationship falls apart as he panics about the rapid changes in his life as well as the secret he's been keeping.

In SCHOOL OF ROCK, Jack Black's goal of playing battle of the bands by posing as a music teacher has been displaced by his caring about the students in his class. His deception falls apart too!

Whoever the participants are in the latest body-switch story find BOTH their new lives are becoming a mess.

The Comic Toolbox (oh, all this is taken from “The Comic Toolbox” by John Vorhaus!) also says that this section is “a disaster of the Hero's own making”. The character's flaws are at fault here.

Does this make sense? If you have any questions or want clarifications (or if you have some clarifications of your own), please write ‘em in the comments.

I’m thinking that after next week (the final part) maybe I'll try writing a couple story outlines using this method, for the Newspost after that. Might be fun.

Maybe. But next Thursday we'll put this baby to bed!




Banes at 7:35AM, May 26, 2017

...just kiddin about the Ghostbusters thing - I know it's not from that movie. Just a little (failed) effort at a joke. You guys corrected me in such a friendly way. Yer the best!

Banes at 1:33PM, May 25, 2017

@cdmalcolm - good question. I'm not sure. I think a lot of stories will fall into these shapes organically. But thinking of these things as tools from a toolbox makes a lot of sense to me, as opposed to thinking of them as "rules".

Banes at 1:31PM, May 25, 2017

@Ironscarf - haha, thanks! I agree that this overall structural approach applies to plot in any genre. The differences would be in the "comic perspective" of the characters, and of course the scenes will be funny as opposed to scary or dramatic. Although a comedy can have serious scenes, and tense or scary scenes, or thrilling scenes...maybe it is mostly about comedic characters and their perspectives and reactions?

Banes at 1:23PM, May 25, 2017

@KimLuster - thanks! I agree about how un-comedic a lot of comedy movies become in the "falling apart" section. I loved that show "My Name is Earl" - it often started hilarious and became more about humanity/emotion later on in the episode - but the characters and situations were so quirky that it never lost that comedic foundation.

Banes at 1:13PM, May 25, 2017

@bravo - a classic line, to be sure. If you and KimLuster check your notes, I'm sure you'll agree that it was Ghostbusters and not that Casa-whatever.

Banes at 1:11PM, May 25, 2017

@ozoneocean - thanks! If I can do it in a way that seems useful and not-too-long, I'll do it.

cdmalcolm1 at 8:46AM, May 25, 2017

I think everyone is right. Romantic comedies like maid in manhattan, hell, even in fast and furious 8 grabbed a few tools from the toolbox. It's almost like it goes hand in hand with the climax of a story. The question is now; Is it always used?

Ironscarf at 7:44AM, May 25, 2017

I'm enjoying these a lot! The comedy toolbox method seems to apply to any plot, proving that comedy and tradgedy are two sides of the same newspost.

KimLuster at 7:27AM, May 25, 2017

Great stuff again! In the 'things fall apart' part, comedy can forget it's comedy... Movies like Shallow Hal, The Toy (Richord Pryor), when they dealt with the 'serious stuff' it was hard to get back into the comedy at the end... Funny about that 'quote of a quote' (Originally from Casablanca - I paraphrase that quote in a couple pages in the Godstrain!!

bravo1102 at 5:59AM, May 25, 2017

The gin joint quote was him quoting Casablanca. Along with An Affair to Remember, a serious romance that has been referenced in numerous rom-coms. ;)

Ozoneocean at 2:46AM, May 25, 2017

Hahaha, I want to see your treatment of this one XD

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